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Sheriff offers expanded commentary on Christmas Eve traffic stop
Press release from Sheriff Rob Nou:
On Christmas Eve deputies were involved in a traffic stop in Friday Harbor that involved a hay ride of Christmas carolers and ultimately a heated and disturbing confrontation that has triggered great concern and emotion in our Community.
I have been hesitant to make more than general public statements about the incident because I felt it important to insure that anything I said was based on a complete and accurate understanding of the events. Today, in response to requests from the media and the parties involved, I am releasing copies of documents, including the officer's incident reports, audio from the radio dispatch call, and others.
There are a number of facts that the parties involved agree upon:
- The stop occurred at 5:40 p.m. near the ferry landing.
- Deputy Menjivar stopped a truck that was pulling a trailer, which carried several children and adults. The taillights on the trailer were not working, and he had a justified concern about the safety of the passengers.
- The driver got out of the truck immediately when stopped and approached the deputy quickly.
- When Deputy Menjivar became concerned that the situation was getting out of control, he called for backup.
- There was no violence or use of force, however voices were raised and some of the children present understandably became upset.
- After the call for backup, Deputy Korth, arrived on the scene less than two minutes after the initial stop, and the situation calmed down. Contrary to one report, no one was ordered to get off the wagon or lined up against a storefront or wall.
- Deputy Korth followed the hay wagon to its destination to insure its safe arrival.
- The incident lasted less than 15 minutes.
- No citation was issued.
The dispute in this case concerns the actions of Deputy Menjivar, the driver of the truck, and others on the scene. The confrontation began almost immediately after the stop.
In his report, Deputy Korth stated that when he arrived on the scene (within two minutes of the time Menjivar initially radioed in to report the stop) the driver of the truck was shouting at Deputy Menjivar and stated he would not provide his driver’s license and vehicle registration to Menjivar.
According to Korth's report, 4-5 other people at the scene were gathered around or approaching Menjivar, shouting and making derisive comments, including insulting remarks about his ethnicity.
This was an extraordinary and stressful situation, but one that the public expects our law enforcement officers to deal with professionally.
Deputies are trained to call for backup as soon as it appears necessary. Deputy Menjivar did that promptly, and by accounts from both sides, Deputy Korth did an excellent job of separating the contentious parties and defusing the tension after he arrived.
Several facts remain in dispute. The primary area of concern is how and why the situation became so volatile so quickly before the second deputy arrived, and how each deputy reacted and responded to the stress of the confrontation.
I have asked several times publicly for witnesses to come forward. Reportedly several witnesses may have photographs or cell phone video of the incident. To date, no one has come forward. I plan to talk with additional witnesses, and will consider all of the evidence before I make a final decision on what administrative action to take in this case. Our own internal review is not yet complete.
I am working with the County Council and the County Manager, as well as the professionals in and outside of my department to insure that we have all of the appropriate training for our deputies, and that clear channels of communication with the Community remain open.
The men and women of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, who enforce the law and protect the public safety, live here, work here and many are raising children here. Community trust is essential for the health of our agency and the effectiveness of the Sheriff’s Office. I am mindful that trust must be earned every day.
Copies of the incident reports filed by the two deputies involved are available on the County’s website athttp://sanjuanco.com/sheriff/docs/incidentreports.pdf